Who Were The Bastarnae ?

 

 

“…the Bastarnæ, the bravest nation of all”.

(Appianus, Mithridatic Wars 10:69)

 

 

 

The most enigmatic ‘barbarian’ people to appear in southeastern Europe in the late Iron Age are undoubtedly the Bastarnae (Βαστάρναι / Βαστέρναι) tribes.

 

FULL ARTICLE:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2014/03/26/who-were-the-bastarnae-2/

 

 

 

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THE BOY IN THE BEAR CLAW CLOAK – Burial of a Celto-Scythian Warrior at Mana (Orhei), Moldova

b-claw-warrior

“…the Gauls on the Danube who are called Bastarnae, an equestrian host and warlike”.

(Plut. Aem. 9.6)

Discovered by locals in 2011 near the village of Mana (Orhei district) in Moldova, and subsequently investigated by archaeologists, the Mana III burial represents a unique archaeological find from this part of Moldova and provides invaluable information on the Celtic/Celto-Scythian population which inhabited this part of Europe in the immediate pre-Roman period.

location

Location of Mana

The cremated remains of the deceased had been placed in a bronze vessel, and subsequent forensic analysis of the remains from the burial pit (58×63 cm; depth 78 cm) established that the body was that of a boy warrior, aged between 14-16 years old. During the cremation process the body had been subjected to temperatures reaching 900 degrees C.

burning

(Illustrations after Tentiuc I., Bubulici V., Simalcsik A. (2015) A cremation burial of a horseman near the village of Mana (the Orhei district) (Un mormânt de incineraţie al unui călăreţ războinic descoperit lângă satul Mana (Orhei). In: Tyragetia. Archeologie Istorie Antică, Vol. IX [XXIV] nr. , pp. 221-248. Chişnău 2015)

 

“… to the Maeotic Lake on the east, where it bordered on Pontic Scythia, and that from that point on Gauls and Scythians were mingled”.

(Plut. Marius: 11: 4—5)

Besides the aforementioned bronze situla in which the cremated remains were placed, burial goods in the pit included a ceramic bowl of a type specific to the so-called Poieneşti-Lucaşeuca culture associated with the Celto-Scythian Bastarnae tribes, an iron spiral bracelet and military equipment consisting of a La Tène iron sword/scabbard, spearhead, shield umbo and spurs. Noteworthy is the fact that the La Tène weapons were all ritually ‘killed’, i.e. bent or otherwise deliberately deformed in the well documented Celtic fashion, indicating that although the Bastarnae tribes had become a complex mix of Celtic and Scythian cultures by the late Iron Age, their material culture and religious rites remained strongly Celtic in nature (Tentiuc et al 2015).

spearh

Ritually killed spearhead from the Mana III burial

sword

Iron Sword from the Mana III Burial

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The Boy in the Bear Claw Cloak

According to forensic evidence, the boy warrior had been dressed in a bear hide worn as a cloak which was also incinerated during the subsequent cremation process. This was confirmed by the presence of ten bones among the remains which have been identified, taxonomically and anatomically, as distal/terminal phalanges (corresponding to claw) of a mature bear – Ursus arctos. The presence of only two claws indicates that the bear hide had been used as a cloak (loc cit).

bear

Cremated remains of the Bear Claws from the Mana Burial

‘…the Bastarnæ, the bravest nation of all’.
(Appianus, Mithridatic Wars 10:69)

Although the exact circumstances in which the boy warrior from Mana met his fate will probably never be known, the chronological context in which he was buried (first half of the first century BC) suggests a number of possibilities. During the Mithridatic Wars the Balkan Celts and Bastarnae supported the Pontic leader against Rome (App. Mith.: 69, 111; Justin. 38: 3, Memn. 27: 7; McGing 1986: 61; see Choref, Mac Gonagle 2015). At the Battle of Chalcedon, for example, the Bastarnae dealt a severe blow to the Romans – “In the land battle the Bastarnae routed the Italians, and slaughtered them” (App. Mith. 71; Memn. 27:7), and the Celto-Scythian tribes remained loyal to Mithridates until his final defeat in 63 BC.

Even after the end of the Mithridatic Wars, the Balkan Celts and Bastarnae continued to resist Roman expansion on the Lower Danube and Pontic region. In 61 BC a “barbarian” coalition, led by the Bastarnae, dealt a spectacular defeat to the Roman army of Gaius Antonius Hybrida (“the Monster”) at the Battle of Histria (Choref, Mac Gonagle op cit.). Besides the conflict with Rome, there exists the possibility that the Mana warrior fell defending his people against the Thracian Getae tribe who, under their leader Burebista, launched a genocidal campaign against their neighbors (Celtic, Greek and Bastarnae) towards the mid 1st century BC.

 

 

 

On the Bastarnae see:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/celto-scythians-and-celticization-in-ukraine-and-the-north-pontic-region/

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Who Were The Bastarnae ?

UD: April 2019

 

 

‘…the Bastarnæ, the bravest nation of all’.

(Appianus, Mithridatic Wars 10:69)

 

The most enigmatic ‘barbarian’ people to appear in southeastern Europe in the late Iron Age are undoubtedly the Bastarnae (Βαστάρναι / Βαστέρναι) tribes.

While archaeological/numismatic evidence indicates that the Bastarnae tribes had reached the Danube Delta as early as the second half of the 4th c. BC, they first appear in historical sources in connection with the events of 179 BC as allies of Philip V of Macedonia in his war with Rome (Livy 40:5, 57-58), and remain a constant factor in the history of southeastern Europe for over 500 years. Due to the fact that archaeologists have failed to associate a particular archaeological culture with the Bastarnae, the ethnic origin of this people has hitherto remained shrouded in mystery, with a lack of clarity on whether they were initially of Scythian, Germanic or Celtic origin. However, as illustrated below, a chronological analysis of the ancient sources relating to the Bastarnae in general, and archaeological, numismatic and linguistic evidence from the territory of the Bastarnae Peucini tribe in particular, enables us to finally shed some light on this question.

 

1 - a - Bastarnae

Celto-Scythian (Peucini Bastarnae) burial from Durankulak Island (Dobrudja), north-eastern Bulgaria (2nd c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/peucini-bastarnae-the-land-of-esus/

 

pel

Bastarnae ‘Huşi-Vovrieşti type’ tetradrachms from the Celtic settlement at Pelczyska, Poland (2nd c. BC)
https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/02/09/the-celts-in-poland/

 

 

 

THE SOURCES

 

Later authors such as Dio Cassius (3rd c. AD – Dio LI.23.3, 24.2) and Zosimus (late 5th/early 6th c. AD – Zosimus I.34) define the Bastarnae as ‘Scythians’, and to a great extent this is true. By the late Roman period the Bastarnae tribes had been living in the region vaguely referred to as ‘Scythia’ for over half a millennium, and mixing with the local tribes (‘mixed marriages are giving them to some extent the vile appearance of the Sarmatians’ – Tac. Ger. 46). Thus, they were by this stage indeed Scythians, in the same way, for example, the Celtic Scordisci in Thrace are referred to in Roman sources as ‘Thracians’, having inhabited the region of Thrace for a number of centuries. However, as with the latter case, geographical situation by no means indicates ethnic origin.

 

1 - a - stranger

Facial Reconstruction of a Celto-Scythian/Bastarnae woman from burial # 9 at the Celtic settlement at Pelczyska (Świętokrzyskie province), Poland

(after Rudnicki, Piasecki 2005)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/04/03/barbarian-brides-inter-ethnic-marriage-in-the-iron-age/

 

Burial of a young Bastarnae horseman with La Tene weapons and bear cloak, from Mana (Orhei), Moldova

(1 c. BC)

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2017/01/29/the-bear-claw-warrior-burial-of-a-celto-scythian-bastarnae-horseman-from-mana-orhei-district-moldava/

 

While sources such as Strabo (early 1st c. AD – see below), and Tacitus (circa 100 AD; Tac. Ger. 43), are often cited to support the view that the Bastarnae were of Germanic origin, in fact a closer analysis of the testimony of both these sources reveals that neither is certain about who the Bastarnae were. While Strabo informs us that the Bastarnae lived mixed with the Thracian and Celtic tribes in Thrace, both north and south of the river, he also admits, ‘I know neither the Bastarnae, nor the Sarmatae nor, in a word, any of the peoples who dwell above the Pontus’ (Strabo VII, 2:4). Tacitus states the following:
Peucini, quos quidam Bastarnas, vocunt sermon cultu, sede ac domiciliis ut Germani agunt’ (Tac. op cit.), i.e. – he informs us not that the Bastarnae were Germani, but that they were ‘similar to the Germani’. In this case one should bear in mind that many of the Celts who migrated into southeastern Europe and Asia-Minor from the end of the 4th c. BC onwards originated from the Belgae group of Celtic tribes (see also ‘Galatia’ article), who are described in ancient sources as being most like the Germani.

The other ancient authors are clear on the ethnic origin of the Bastarnae. The earliest source, Polybius (200-118 BC; XXIV 9,13) refers to them as Celtic (Galatians), while Livy (59 BC – 17 AD) tells us that they had the same customs and spoke the same language as the Celtic Scordisci, and also mentions close military and political ties between the Bastarnae and Scordisci (Livy 40:57). Plutarch (46 – 120 AD; Aem. 9.6) refers to them as ‘Gauls on the Danube who are called Bastarnae’.

 

 

THE BASTARNAE IN THRACE

 

It was in the wake of the aforementioned events of 179 BC that the Peucini, the southern branch of the Bastarnae, were drawn south of the Danube into Thrace. They were at this stage a powerful military and political force in southeastern Europe, which is illustrated by the enthusiasm that Philip V of Macedonia showed at the prospect of being allied to them:

 ‘The envoys whom he had sent to the Bastarnae to summon assistance had returned and brought back with them some young nobles, amongst them some of royal blood. One of these promised to give his sister in marriage to Philip’s son, and the king was quite elated at the prospect of an alliance with that nation’ (Livy 40:5).

 Although Philip’s sudden death meant that the joint attack on Rome by the Macedonians and Bastarnae came to nothing, by this time a large group of the (Peucini) Bastarnae had already migrated into Thrace, and a group of 30,000 of them subsequently settled in Dardania; another larger group of Bastarnae returned eastwards and settled in the area of today’s eastern Bulgaria (Livy 40:58), where Bastarnae kingdoms were established in the Dobruja area. At the beginning of the 1st c. AD Strabo (VII, 3:2) mentions that the ethnic make-up of this area consisted of a complex mix of Thracians, Scythians, Celts and Bastarnae:

the Bastarnae tribes are mingled with the Thracians, more indeed with those beyond the Ister (Danube), but also with those this side. And mingled with them are also the Celtic tribes…”.
A thriving ‘barbarian’ culture emerged in this area (southeastern Romania/northeastern Bulgaria) during the 2nd/ 1st c. BC, based on a symbiotic relationship between these various groups and the Greek Black Sea colonies – a culture which was brought to a brutal end in the mid 1st c. BC by the destructive rampage of the Getic leader Burebista, which also paved the way for the Roman conquest of the Dobruja.

 

aelis

Bronze issue of the (Peucini) Bastarnae king Aelis (s. Dobruja region, Bulgaria  (180-150 BC).
– Jugate heads of the Dioskouroi right, in wreathed caps / jugate horse heads right; monogram & ΠΕ (for Peucini) below

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/peucini-bastarnae-the-land-of-esus/

 

In summary, an analysis of the ancient sources would appear to indicate that the Bastarnae tribes were initially of Celtic (Belgic) origin. This is confirmed by numismatic, archaeological, and linguistic evidence from the territory of the Bastarnae Peucini tribe in n.e. Bulgaria, s.e. Romania, Moldova and Ukraine. One should also note that the first archaeological/numismatic evidence of the presence of the Bastarnae in s.e. Europe (2nd half of the 4th c. BC) corresponds chronologically with the Celtic migration into the region.

 It would therefore appear, based on the available scientific data, that the elusive Bastarnae tribes were not some mysterious Germanic people who appeared in southeastern Europe during this period, but that they, like the Galatians, were tribes of the Belgae group who migrated into the area during the Celtic expansion at the end of the 4th / beginning of the 3rd c. BC. Scientific evidence from the Dobruja region (loc cit) further indicates that the original Celto-Germanic (Belgic) nature of this culture subsequently underwent a fundamental metamorphosis due to prolonged contact and co-existence with the Hellenistic and Scythian cultures, the resulting fusion of Celtic, Hellenistic and Scythian cultural elements culminating in a unique and distinct Bastarnae ethnicity by the Roman period.

In the later Roman period the policy of ethnic engineering further strengthened the Bastarnae presence south of the Danube. Under the Emperor Probus (276-82) 100,000 of them were settled in Thrace (Historia Augusta Probus 18), and shortly afterwards Emperor Diocletian (284-305) carried out another ‘massive’ transfer of the Bastarnae population to the south of the Danube (Eutropius IX.25; see Balkancelts ‘Ethnic Engineering’ article). Thus, the Bastarnae presence on the territory of today’s Bulgaria, already well established since the 2nd c. BC, was further reinforced by the policies of both Probus and Diocletian.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Bastarnae in Ukraine/Crimea:

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/celto-scythians-and-celticization-in-ukraine-and-the-north-pontic-region/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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BASTARNAE BRIDE – Burial of a Celto-Scythian woman in a Celtic burial complex at Pelczyska in Little Poland

 

UD: Feb. 2019

 

 

pel skull face

 

 

Pelczyska (Świętokrzyskie province) is situated in the western part of the loess uplands of Little Poland, circa 55 km. north-east of Kraków, on the right bank of the Nida river. 7 archaeological sites have hitherto been located in the vicinity of the village, which have yielded significant evidence of Celtic (La Têne) culture in this region during the La Têne B2 – D2 periods (3rd – 1st c. BC).

 

a - a - a - Poland

 

Archaeologically confirmed areas of Celtic settlement in Poland 

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/02/09/the-celts-in-poland/

 

Killed sword

Ritually ‘Killed’ Celtic Sword from Korytnica, (also Świętokrzyskie province), south-central Poland

https://balkancelts.wordpress.com/2013/06/19/killing-the-objects-3/

 

By the later phase of Celtic settlement in this region, as in other parts of central and eastern Europe, cremation had replaced inhumation as the dominant burial custom (see ‘Celtic Death’ article). Thus, for example, the earliest Celtic graves from Silesia, dating to the La Têne C1 period, are cremation burials (Rudnicki, Piasecki 2005). Excavations at Pelczyska over the past decade have revealed that this was also the case in this area of Poland. A number of late La Têne graves revealed southwest of the village are all cremation burials – with one notable exception.

 

Grave skel complete

(after Rudnicki, Piasecki 2005)

 

In grave # 9 was discovered a well preserved inhumation burial, dating from the same period as the aforementioned cremation burials, i.e. – La Têne D2/late 1st c. BC. The body, lying on its right side, orientated west, was found with 2 pots placed on either side of the head. According to anatomical analysis, the skeleton is that of a mature female (adultus maturus), circa 30-35 years of age (loc cit).

 

pel skull

 

The discovery of the female inhumation burial at Pelczyska is the latest in a series of cases from late Iron Age eastern Europe of women from different ethnic groups buried in a Celtic environment. A notable example of this phenomenon is the Thracian woman buried in the Celtic cemetery at Remetea Mare in Romania. As in the Polish case, the female burial in Romania was the only inhumation burial in the Celtic cemetery, the other burials all being cremations.

 

Remetea Mare

Female Inhumation Burial (#3) from Remetea Mare, Romania

(after Rustoiu 2011)

https://www.academia.edu/10087747/Bonds_of_Blood_-_On_Inter-Ethnic_Marriage_in_the_Iron_Age

 

 

So, who was the woman from grave # 9 at Pelczyska ?

The complex cultural situation in this part of Poland in the late Iron Age makes conclusive ethnic attribution difficult, but a number of facts from the site provide strong indications as to the woman’s origin. Firstly, anthropological analysis of the skull indicates the southern origin of the woman (Rudnicki, Piasecki 2005). Furthermore, inhumation burials from eastern Europe from this period where the pot is placed by the head, as is the case at Pelczyska, have been recorded among the (Celto-Scythian) Bastarnae tribes (Babeş 1993: 34=-35). It is therefore particularly significant that a close economic and cultural relationship between the Celts in this part of Poland and the Bastarnae has been confirmed at Pelczyska by the discovery of a large amount of Bastarnae coinage at the site.

 

Bast coins

Bastarnae ‘Huşi-Vovrieşti type’ tetradrachms from Pelczyska

(after Rudnicki 2003)

 

Thus, the available numismatic, archaeological and anthropological evidence strongly indicates that the woman buried in grave #9 at Pelczyska originated from the Bastarnae tribes and, as is the case with the Thracian woman from Remetea Mare, probably came to live among the Polish Celts as a result of a marriage agreement between the latter and the Celto-Scythians to the south-east. The fact that the woman was buried according to her own tribal customs once again highlights the mutual respect for cultural diversity observed by the pre-Roman tribes of eastern Europe.

 

Face recon.

Facial Reconstruction of the Female from Burial # 9 at Pelczyska

(after Rudnicki, Piasecki 2005)

 

 

 

 

 

On Inter-Ethnic marriage during the Iron Age:

https://www.academia.edu/10087747/Bonds_of_Blood_-_On_Inter-Ethnic_Marriage_in_the_Iron_Age

 

On the Bastarnae see also:

https://www.academia.edu/4835555/Gallo-Scythians

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Literature Cited

 

Babeş M. (1993) Die Poieneşti-Lukaševka-Kultur. Ein Beitrag zur Kulturgeschichte im Raum östlich der Karpaten in den letzten Jahrhunderten vor Christi Geburt, Saarbrücker Beiträge zur Altertumskunde 30, Berlin.

Rudnicki M. (2003) Celtic Coin Finds from a Settlement of the La Têne period at Pelczyska. In: Polish Numismatic News VII, 2003. P. 1-24.

Rudnicki M., Piasecki K. (2005) A Late La Téne Inhumation Grave from Pelczyska: Comments on the Cultural Situation in the Upland Area of Little Poland (with an analysis of the anatomical remains by Karol Piasecki). In Celts on the Margin – Studies in Euopean Cultural Interaction 7th Century BC – 1st Century AD. Krakow 2005. p. 195 – 206

Rustoiu A. (2011) The Celts from Transylvania and the eastern Banat and their Southern Neighbours. Cultural Exchanges and Individual Mobility. In: The Eastern Celts. The Communities between the Alps and the Black Sea.  Koper–Beograd 2011. p. 163-171

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mac Congail